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Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Happy 1st Day of Spring!

Yes, the dreaded winter has finally passed and, at least in Rome, you can really start to feel the difference. The weather has been absolutely fabulous the past week, the bright green bulbs are starting to come out on all the empty tree branches, and every store has pastel spring dresses on display. Being from Miami, this immediately lifts my spirits tenfold... until I see my friends on Facebook already tanned from how much they're going to the beach. But at this point I'll take what I can get.

The face of someone that is loving the return of Spring!

I've been MIA for the past week and it's been because of a combination of things. We have stayed in Rome for the past two weekends, since we seriously needed a little bit of a break from the road trips every weekend. I've also been looking to buy new furniture here in Italy and the process is complicated and time consuming, but that's a post for another day if I'm ever successful in that particular endeavor.

This past Sunday, we celebrated the amazing weather with a little picnic in Villa Borghese. I had really wanted to do that since the moment we arrived at the end of last summer and Jaime is on board for anything that has food.

Can you be mad at someone with blue eyes like those?

Instead of packing our own picnic, we went to a cute little place called GiNa's close to the Spanish Steps where they actually prepare the entire picnic "basket" (more like insulated duffel bag) for you! For 40€, you get two sandwiches, two drinks, potato chips, bread, fruit cups, dessert, and a thermos with espresso and cookies. There is also a deluxe basket, which I'm guessing has the wine, but we were cheapos and brought our own wine. The basket also has everything you can possibly need, from bottle openers, to salt and pepper, to plates and utensils. It was so cute!

All in all, I think even though the price is a little steep, it's worth it especially if you don't want to deal with the hassle of preparing everything yourself or if you are traveling and simply don't have your own picnic things at hand. Obviously though, anyone that knows Jaime knows he's already looking for his own picnic basket so the days of not having to prepare picnic food for me are over!

Arya trying to get in on some of the chocolate action. No self preservation whatsoever.

"Yes, flowers!"

Anyway, if you're in Rome and want to explore Villa Borghese, consider doing a little picnic or ordering it from GiNa's! We had a ton of fun (until Arya committed a party foul and knocked over a glass of wine on our picnic blanket)!

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Updated About Me & Travel Sections!

Hey guys, I just updated my About the Girl page and Travel page! Go check it out!

Carnevale di Viareggio 2014

Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. In Italy, with it's strong Catholic background, it is obviously very important. Just as important, however, was what happened before today...Carnevale! Otherwise known as Mardi Gras in the USA.

In my Venice post, I included some pictures of the beginning of Carnevale season and talked a little bit of the events that took place while we were there. While Venice's Carnevale is probably the most famous, it is by no means the only one in Italy. Most Italian cities and towns celebrate Carnevale in some way or another, with the exception of Rome this year. 

But when has that stopped us? 

Italy Magazine (a fantastic resource of all things Italy, if you ask me) had an article about some of the best Carnevale celebrations in Italy and we got the idea to go Viareggio, a Tuscan beach town about four hours north of Rome, known for some of the best Carnevale floats in all of Italy. It has been around since 1873, back then the floats were made out of wood and plaster while today they are made out of papier mâché with some pretty eccentric themes, as you will see in the pictures. 

We had a ton of fun, while Arya was a little scared of all the people and loud music. We did have to pay an entrance fee of 15€/person, but it was totally worth it. While we left early because we did have to drive back to Rome, I'm sure the party lasted all night long. 

Here are some pictures:

Yes, those are some naked Italian politicians, as well as a naked Angela Merkel in the front. 

Below: I obviously thought Mario & Luigi were HILARIOUS!

My favorite float: John Lennon and the Beatles!

Zombies worshipping money. 
For more pictures, visit My Napoleon Complex's Facebook page!

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Photos from Murano & Burano

The Saturday we were in Venice we (or, more accurately, I) decided we wanted to go to Murano and Burano, two of the islands close to Venice. I was dead set on buying a Murano ornament and Burano is known for its lace so I figured it would be nice to get something there as well. One of the few times I actually went somewhere with the specific purpose to shop.

Murano is very popular, as is the Murano glass, and when I think of Venice, I automatically think of Murano as well. Murano's glassmaking industry began when the Venetians forced glass artisans to move there in 1291 for fear of fire in the main island. Glassmakers held a high place in Venetian society and for centuries they were known to be the best high-quality glassmakers in all of Europe. Today, the islands population is around 5000 and some of the oldest glass making companies are still around, making glass objects in the same way they used to do hundreds of years ago.

Murano statue in the middle of the piazza.
If you are looking to buy Murano glass and I mean real Murano glass, not the Made in China stuff, it is not enough to just go into the island and start buying from any of the hundreds of stores that line the streets. As I found out, Murano glass is protected by the Veneto Region with a "Vetro Artistico Murano" trademark sticker. If it does not have this sticker, IT IS NOT MURANO GLASS, or at least, not guaranteed. I thought this was important because Murano glass is expensive and if you decide to spend money on it, you should make sure it's the real thing. In Murano, everything has more or less the same price range, from expensive to "my-wallet-is-bleeding" expensive, even if it's not guaranteed Murano glass.

To get to Murano, we took a vaporetto from Piazza San Marco and were there in about 15 minutes. One thing we noticed about vaporetti are that they are so much more reliable than buses in Rome. But maybe that's because traffic on the water is not the same as traffic on the streets :).

After completing our mission of finding my Murano masterpiece, we headed to Burano.  Burano is 7 kilometers from Venice and it wasn't until after the 40 minute vaporetto ride that we realized exactly how far that was. But it was totally worth it. Burano is known for it's lace, but it is not like Murano, where every street is just shop after shop of glass. Except for a few specific stores, it was mostly just souvenir shops with a few "handmade" lace objects, while every shop had a little old lady threading needles (for the tourists' benefit, I'm sure). We did end up buying a tablecloth in Burano, but whether it is really handmade as they claim is anyone's guess. The quality and the details of it are simply outstanding regardless.

One of my favorites.

We offered to take a picture of a couple and they returned the favor.
Turns out, the guy was a photographer and was all artistic with a slanted kiss picture.
Ended up being Jaime's favorite picture, even though he's Mr. OCD-straight-lines-and-centered. 

What I loved most about Burano, however, was the island's colorful homes. Apparently residents must check with the local government whenever they want to paint their homes for acceptable colors for their area.

If you're in Venice for even just a weekend, I highly recommend not just staying in the main island and making a day trip to these two islands. We did both in about 6 hours and that was with us taking our time and including the rather long vaporetti rides. For more information on Murano glass as well as a list of stores in Murano with guaranteed Murano glass, check out the official website here.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Venice, the City of Romance, on Valentine's Day

I am BEYOND EXCITED to write this post. We spent last weekend in VENICE as part of Jaime's Valentine's Day present. Isn't he romantic?

I had been to Venice once before, a few years back, but it was part of a school trip and we spent a grand total of about 8 hours in the city. So I don't really count that. Even though back then I didn't have a lot of time to do much, I still remembered how beautiful the city was, even in the dead of summer with thousands and thousands of tourists. I knew I wanted to go back at some point for at least a weekend. Jaime had never been and he really was not excited to go. He felt it was going to be one of those overrated tourist trap cities that only girls like because it shows up in romantic comedies. But of course, he can't live in Italy and avoid Venice for long, so he decided to get it over with as quickly as possible. I am happy to say that at the end of it though, he was as impressed with the city as I had been.

About two weeks before our departure date, it started raining all over Italy non-stop (it's been very depressing, but I think now we can see the beginnings of Spring coming about). I was very worried because obviously Venice floods and they get acqua alta (high tide) around this time of the year as well. It would not have been fun to walk around like that. Fortunately, the weather in Venice that weekend was gorgeous!

We arrived in Venice on Thursday night fresh off the train and it was raining, as expected. We forgot our umbrella at home so we had to buy one and start our little trek to the hotel. Another expectation when you go to Venice: you WILL get lost. Even with Google Maps, paper maps, mental maps, whatever you want to use, you WILL get lost. That night, Jaime thought our hotel was half a kilometer away from the station and it turned out it was... considerably farther away. Eventually, we had to call the hotel and ask them for an actual street name since addresses in Venice are literally written down as the name of the sestiere (neighborhood) and a number, which doesn't even go in an particular order.

We finally got to our hotel, which is not even worth mentioning since our room had an overpowering smell of tobacco and our hot water didn't work two of the three nights we were there (word to the wise: I think this is a city where it's better to stay in a HomeAway apartment or the Four Seasons, depending on what your budget is).

The next day, Valentine's Day, we were ready to start exploring!

View from the Rialto Bridge
We started with a leisurely walk from our hotel in the sestiere Cannaregio all the way to Piazza San Marco. Along the way, we stopped at a few costume stores, took pictures, and walked across the famous Ponte Rialto. The weather was fantastic and the city was beautiful.

Picturesque little sign saying the name of the sestiere
In front of the Rialto. 
In Piazza San Marco, we went inside the Basilica di San Marco, which was beautiful of course, but it's a little offensive to me when in every corner they make you pay a couple of euros to see one of their relics. Apparently, most churches in Venice make you pay a tourist fee. After, we went next door to the Palazzo Ducale, or Doge's Palace in English, which was the place of residence for the Venetian Doge until 1797, when it was occupied by Napoleon's troops. After that, Venice was occupied by the French, then the Austrian, and finally became part of Italy in 1866. Doge's Palace is well worth the visit, as it is very impressive inside and you also get to walk across the Bridge of Sighs and see from inside the "last view of the outside world convicts had before their imprisonment."

Feeding the pigeons even though that is technically no longer allowed.

Inside the courtyard at the Palazzo Ducale
Below: The Bridge of Sighs from the inside (left) and the outside (right).

After the Palazzo Ducale, we took a vaporetto, or water bus, to the island across from San Marco, where the San Giorgio Maggiore church is located. The church is nothing spectacular on the inside because it was undergoing restoration, but what we were really there for was the view. A beautiful unobstructed view of Venice at sunset (the Panoramic at the beginning of the post was also taken from here).

Behind us is the island of San Giorgio Maggiore, taken from Piazza San Marco. 

This is the view of Piazza San Marco from the island of San Giorgio. 

Later that night, we had reservations to eat at a restaurant called La Zucca, which means pumpkin. The food was amazing, in particular the primi of Pumpkin Flan, which is not actually the dessert as we know it, but more of a soufflé. It was delicious! The dessert was equally as good, a Bavarese di Mango (which looks more like the flan I know). Like everything else though, the address and maps were absolutely no help to find the place, we literally bumped into it when we thought we still had another quarter of a kilometer to go.

On Saturday night was the official (according to the website) start of the Venetian Carnevale. I was super excited to get to catch some of the carnevale action, but there wasn't much going on that night unfortunately, just people dressed up and out on the streets drinking and dancing until late. The next morning, before we left we got to see the Festa Sul'Acqua, which was almost like a mini-parade on the water along the Grand Canal. The Venetians were dressed up and riding gondolas, while one man sang O Sole Mio accapella with no microphone. No, I am not kidding. It was actually a rather solemn affair, rather than lively, as everyone was quiet to be able to hear the man's voice carry along the canal. Regardless, I have been inspired to attend next years festivities in Venice, but we'll plan to go on Fat Tuesday instead ;).

Festa Sul'Acqua - Carnevale 2014

Before I conclude this long post, I'd like to add some tips for those of you planning to go to Venice:

1. Maps and GPS's are practically useless around here, but your best bet is to be traditional and find a paper map, then ask for street names of any particular places you want to go to, instead of just numbers. This is obviously for things that are not major tourist sites, since those are very well signaled throughout the city.

2. Gondolas are expensive, we all know that. But vaporettos (the water buses) and traghettos (literally a gondola at full capacity that transports you across the canal while standing up) are not exactly cheap either. A 90 minute ticket for the vaporetto is 7 Euros and a traghetto ride (which is less than 30 seconds) is 2 Euros, as of February 2014 (UPDATE: I have just been informed by grand master know-it-all, Jaime, that the ticket is actually for 60 minutes, not 90). My advice is to walk as much as you can. But if you are planning to go to Murano and Burano, buy a 24-hour, 36-hour, or 72-hour ticket, depending on how long you are staying in the city. You will definitely break even and you will get to ride the vaporetto everywhere just because you can.

Venetians riding the Traghetto
One of the best views of the Rialto is from the Vaporetto, line 1.

3. Please, please, please, do not buy a cappuccino in Piazza San Marco for 16 Euros. I am not kidding, that was the going rate for it at Caffe Florian. I don't care how famous that place is, or who has been there, it is not worth it. Add that to the fact that an Italian cappuccino is not a big cup and half of it is filled up with foam anyway. It is offensive.

For more pictures, make sure to visit My Napoleon Complex's facebook page and stay tuned for my next post on Murano and Burano!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Alberobello, The City of the Trulli

Ever since we settled into our apartment, Jaime gets a little travel itch and goes on and on about how we "need to go somewhere every weekend or we will never see anything!!" As for me, I absolutely LOVE to travel, but sometimes it's nice to just stay home in sweatpants and cuddle up for movies. The weather and the cold this past month also hasn't helped inspire me to want to travel anywhere. But about a week and a half ago, Jaime got this little travel itch again and decided that we were going to spend the weekend in Puglia.

Uh, where?

Honestly, I had maybe heard of Puglia a couple of times in my life. I had absolutely no idea where it was even located in Italy, much less what there was to see there. After a great weekend there, however, I am so glad Jaime dragged me out there.

The region of Puglia is located on the heel of Italy's boot. Some fun facts: Puglia has been invaded and colonized by Greeks, Romans, Turks, and Spanish at different points throughout its history. It also produces more than half of Italy's olive oil, which was quickly evident by the massive amounts of olive groves in the countryside.

Puglia is not exactly tiny though, so we made Alberobello our base of exploration. Alberobello is a small town near the main city of Bari, known for its peculiar little homes called trulli.

How cute is this???
These houses are specific to this area and, according to some accounts, were built with the intention of being easy to dismantle when inspectors came to collect taxes. The drawings on the cones of the trullo have different meanings and the pinnacle is the "signature" of the builder. We were actually able to stay in one of these trullo for a great price a few kilometers away from the city center and we loved it! They are small and cozy, although a little difficult to heat up because of the cone design. But it was the perfect excuse to light up the fireplace! If only we had had marshmallows to make some s'mores! Here are a few pictures of our trullo apartment.

What you see when you walk in. 
Then look up!
The fireplace lit up and the bottle of wine waiting. Perfect night!

We spent the day Friday walking around and exploring Alberobello. It was beautiful, quiet, and clean, with barely any people around since it is the off-season. As beautiful as it was now I can only imagine how much more pretty it would be during the summer with all the trees and flowers in bloom.

Alberobello is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site! 
Church of St. Anthony, or the Trullo Church
From the Belvedere Panoramic Point
Jaime's picture from the panoramic point
All in all, Alberobello was a nice surprise. It's a little town that is not on the top of lists of places to see in Italy, but is definitely worth checking out. Actually, it coincidentally featured in a list of 5 romantic Italian cities to go to for Valentine's Day in Italy Magazine and I definitely concur. For more pictures of Alberobello, check out My Napoleon Complex's Facebook page and for more pictures and information about our trullo house, check out the owner's website here.